According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, 44 million people in the US, or 20 percent of the population, provide unpaid-for care to another.
So chances are high you know of someone in the caregiving role. Or it could be that you are providing that care to an elderly or disabled family member or loved one.
IncrediCare, a home health agency, says of caregiving, “It’s a selfless act, it’s a wonderful thing, but the rest of your life gets put on hold. If you have a spouse and children, it can get especially taxing—you’re not at home as much as you should be, your children need help with schoolwork, your spouse is feeling neglected. There’s a lot going on. You need to lean back and just breathe and know that you’re breathing for you.”
Here are ways that experts suggest caregivers take care of themselves in order to stay strong and carry on.
Do not try to do it all alone.
Have you unexpectedly found yourself in the caregiving role? Take it as a compliment of sorts. It could be because you are the one closest to the individual who is deemed responsible enough to provide the needed aid. However, responsible individuals often find it hard to ask for help, believing that they should be able to handle it themselves.
The truth is that your sick loved one is not the only person whose health should concern you. One survey showed that the toll on a caregiver’s health increases over time and with hours spent in the caregiving role. Those with fewer hours spent caregiving reported that their health was excellent or very good. Whereas those providing a higher number of hours in caregiving were more likely to report that their health was only fair or even poor.
If your health continues to decline, you will not be able to care for your loved one. So taking care of your own health should be a priority. To do this, you will need to learn how to ask for help.
Have a family meeting or contact others close to your loved one. Be honest and specific concerning what you need help with. Often, individuals not familiar with what duties must be seen to are unaware of ways they can lighten your load. Prepare a list of tasks that others can help you with before you call your meeting so that you do not forget. Such meetings can get emotional, so prepare beforehand.
Be realistic about the emotional support you provide.
Dealing with a loved one who is battling with a long-term illness can be emotionally draining. Caregivers can often feel the need to provide for the sick person’s flagging emotions and spirits as well as attend to their physical needs. In your desire to help, be cautious of placing the weight of their happiness on your own shoulders.
The emotional health and happiness of another person is always the responsibility of the individual. Understand that your sick loved one will likely have bad days when he or she can’t help but express discontent. Realize that their happiness is tied to themselves and should not be dependent on you. Just as your emotions and happiness are your own responsibility.
Be aware of your personal signs of stress.
Do you find it difficult to fall asleep at night? Have you lost your appetite? Or are you stress eating? Do you feel hopeless or depressed about your situation? Do you have difficulty coping with ordinary tasks? Do you no longer take joy in things you used to favor?
Watch how you behave in these areas, as stress often shows itself through poor sleep hygiene, depression, and loss of appetite. And can further go on to affect your health.
Even after you have asked for and received help, you may find yourself suffering from stress. Learn to watch yourself for signs that you are having difficulty coping.
Prepare coping mechanisms to keep stress in check and to avoid letting negative emotions build. This might look like a daily walk in the park. Or meeting a friend out for coffee or drinks every couple of days or as often as needed to keep yourself on an even emotional keel.
The way that you find peace and a method to release stress will be different for everyone. The key lies in knowing what you need to do to cultivate inner peace and schedule that activity into your daily life.